We know nothing about the biology of the lingueirão (Portuguese razor clam). All we know is that, when steamed, it releases the scent of the ocean and we feel we are on the high seas. Use the cooking water to make lingeirão rice and the result is a dish with complex flavor. Guests will think you have been cooking for hours, reducing sauces, combining delicate infusions. And all you did was take advantage of the amazing biology of the lingueirão.
Queijo da Serra (mountain cheese) is made from the milk of sheep guarded by shepherds and their dogs in the granite ridges of the Estrela mountain, 2,000 meters above sea level. It comes in three varieties: amanteigado (soft and buttery), meio-curado (firm), and curado (aged; hard in texture and intense in flavor). Its quality varies from good to magnificent.
Serra cheese has almost no name recognition outside of Portugal. But one day, in the not-too-distant future, the world will discover this cheese. It will then become impossibly expensive, affordable only to Chinese tycoons, African magnates, and Bollywood stars. So, the time to try a magnificent “queijo da Serra” is now. The clock is ticking.
If percebes are too adventurous for you, your next best bet is tremoços (lupini beans). You eat them by tearing the skin with your teeth and popping the seed into your mouth. Recent research finds that the tremoço is a great health food. These findings would not surprise Hippocrates who touted their health benefits 2,500 years ago.
You eat these pre-historic looking crustaceans by twisting off their heads and exposing their meat. They taste and smell like the sea and they are great with beer.
The English name for percebes, “gooseneck barnacles,” comes from the medieval theory that they are embryonic barnacle geese. This theory conveniently explained why flocks of geese would suddenly appear out of nowhere (the fact that birds migrate was not known in the Middle Ages).
In any case, do not worry. There are no recent reports of percebes flying off the plate to migrate south.
Queijadas de Sintra
Queijadas de Sintra are cheese tarts made from fresh cow’s cheese, eggs, sugar, flower, and cinnamon. There are several producers and there is even an association that certifies whether the recipe is authentic. The ones featured here are from Casa do Preto (Estrada Chão Meninos, 44, Sintra).
Historians think that the first Sintra queijadas were produced in the Middle Ages (presumably without cinnamon). It is easy to believe that it has taken a few centuries to figure out how to make the shell so thin and the filling so moist and flavorful. And, if you try them, you will see that all this effort has paid off.
Put yourself in the shells of the “berbigão.” You are constantly outshined by your cousins the clams. Clams star in famous Portuguese dishes such as “carne the porco à Alentejana” (pork with clams). Berbigão gets roles in minor culinary productions such as “arroz de berbigão,” a rice used to accompany other dishes. But forget what the critics say. Cook berbigão with a little olive oil and garlic and you will feel its star power.
Portuguese corn bread
Broa is a delicious corn bread that is a great complement to many Portuguese dishes (if you guessed that broa goes great with grilled sardines, you guessed right).
For a while broa was hard to find in urban areas where people preferred bread made with white flour. But, over time, urbanites saw the error in their ways, so now you can find broa almost everywhere. The texture and color varies by region but the taste is always deeply satisfying.
The sardine is the silver of the sea, mined by brave Portuguese fisherman to adorn the dinner tables of rich and poor.
Portuguese sardines have a layer of fat that melts during cooking and gives them their unique taste. The most popular way to cook sardines is to grill them on charcoal. They are usually served with grilled peppers dressed with olive oil. Another popular preparation is “sardinhas de escabeche,” fried sardines marinated in olive oil, vinegar, onion, and bay leaves.
During the June feasts of St. Antony, St. John and St. Peter restaurants set up their grills on the street and serve sardines to passersby, saints and sinners alike.